Saturday, May 31, 2008

Terms You Must Use - Bureaucrat Style

I’ve noticed a decided lack of trendy contemporary bureaucratic terminology in my own writing compared to that of many other Lutherans - please forgive me. I’ve been keeping track of the words that others might deem to be lacking in my diction, and will endeavor to incorporate them into future posts. Please help me by posting other words that I’m not using enough in the comment section, so that I can incorporate them as well. Here is the list, as best as I can figure it out:

Aggregate financial problems
Doctrinal and theological unity
Ecclesiastical supervisor
Fiscal realities
Honor the Eighth Commandment
Incentivize performance
In truth
Jelly roll
Mutual conversation, consolation, and collaboration
Reduction in force of personnel
(Run-on sentences)
Spirit of unity
Such was not the case

In an effort to “rededicate” myself, here is my first feeble attempt at the “new me.”

Dear Readers,

While I was sitting at the prayer breakfast, eyeing that jelly roll, I was dialoguing with a fellow committee member, discussing the growing division at Stand Firm in light of the upcoming reduction in force of personnel because of fiscal realities. While he stated that there is a propensity for some to exercise the freedoms of speech and of the press in expressing their opinions in a manner that contributes to a spirit of distrust and division in our blog, I said such was not the case. I suggested we revise sales-staff compensation to incentivize performance, but he just laughed, and said I should consult my ecclesiastical supervisor. In truth, I was relieved to point out to him that I have no “ecclesiastical supervisor,” at least not one of a corporate nature. Though we had grown to dislike and distrust one another, through dialogue, over the course of two sausage links, three pastries, and a few cups of coffee, through mutual conversation, consolation, and collaboration, we were able to iron out our aggregate financial problems, put up a modest false front of doctrinal and theological unity, and walk together in a spirit of unity - all while honoring the Eighth Commandment. What could be better?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Terms You Must Use

I’ve noticed a decided lack of trendy contemporary terminology in my own writing compared to that of many other Lutherans - please forgive me. I’ve been keeping track of the words that others might deem to be lacking in my diction, and will endeavor to incorporate them into future posts. Please help me by posting other words that I’m not using enough in the comment section, so that I can incorporate them as well. Here is the list, as best as I can figure it out:


In an effort to “rededicate” myself, here is my first feeble attempt at the “new me.”

Dear Reader,

Bear with me while I unpack this. IMHO, there are terms we should all be using in order to more effectively reach the postmodern seeker. Well, who am I to buck the trend. LOL! Wow, there’s a whole world of words out there that I’ve just discovered - it’s so liberating. No wonder I can’t understand other people’s posts. Whatever. :-)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

An Ecclesiastical Ring of Power?

Pastor Jack Bauer at AC 24 has a great post on Confessional pastors who resist the temptation to use Church Growth Movement methodologies, titled "My Precious - Church Growth Methodology as a "Ring of Power." Here's a couple of the highlights:

You know, it isn't that your liturgical pastor doesn't know how to do all that sociology-driven Church Growth Movement stuff. He could pack your church every Sunday and then some.

...In the Lord of the Rings books/movies and in The Hobbit the rings and the One Ring represents a tool of evil, power, influence. But as we know, in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo the Hobbit rarely puts on the ring and then only at great personal risk and in temptation. The methodology of the Church Growth Purpose-Driven movement is just such an ecclesiastical ring of power. It is not the only one - there are also denominational political power rings, academic rings of power, charismatic rings of power, social gospel/liberation theology rings of power, and so forth.

So, again, it isn't that your curmudgeon pastor doesn't know how to pack them in, he wisely resists using this ring of power. The means of grace are the true way and yet this calls for patience, catechesis, reverence, bearing the cross, and repentance.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Pastor Todd Wilken and Producer Jeff Schwarz have announced the "resurrection" of their radio broadcast, in a new form.

"Jeff and I have been working hard on a new radio show. What will it be like? Well, we’re going to pick up right where Issues, Etc. left off. And at the same time, we’re going to be truly independent, free to speak, no holds barred. As always, Christ-centered, cross-focused. Everything you loved about Issues, Etc., and more." Folks, it’s coming back."

Jerry's not gonna be happy!

Is the Liturgy Really "Adiaphora"?

Pastor Randy Asburry, on his blog RAsburry's Res, has a short, insightful post on the liturgy titled "Is the Liturgy Really 'Adiaphora'?" I hope you'll check it out. Here's a couple of quotes:

But if we Lutherans take the Augsburg Confession at all seriously, we may want to repent of our mistaken notion of liturgy as "adiaphora" modernly interpreted. No, God has not dictated a specific form of liturgy, but He has indeed seen fit for 20 centuries to have His Church hand down liturgical forms that faithfully confess Jesus Christ and His eternal love of saving sinners by forgiving them and restoring them to life with Himself.

So, the point of the liturgy is not "liturgy for the sake of the liturgy." Rather, the point of the liturgy is faithfully to confess the mighty deeds of our Lord's salvation and to keep us centered in them. And for this reason, observing the Church's historic liturgy (as opposed to the forms of American evangelicalism/Pentecostalism) is a fundamental matter of our Lutheran confession of the faith and quite essential to the Christian faith and life, even to the mission of the Church.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why is the Gospel Powerful?

Quoting Klemet Preus from his excellent essay "THE THEOLOGY OF THE CHURCH GROWTH MOVEMENT: An Evaluation of Kent Hunter's Confessions":
One of Luther's most significant contributions to theology, built upon his doctrine of justification, is his understanding of the inherent power of the gospel. The gospel does not become powerful when and if something is added. It is powerful always because Jesus is both its content and its administrator. Every false teaching can be evaluated and described in terms of what that false teaching tries to add to the gospel to make it work. The word becomes powerful when it is preached by a spirit-filled preacher or when the message is "anointed" by the spirit (Wesleyanism, Holiness Movements, Pentecostalism). The word becomes powerful when the sovereign God wills it or when preached to the elect (Calvinism). The word becomes powerful when placed into the teaching office (Romanism.) The word becomes powerful when combined with the willing heart (Arminianism). The word becomes powerful when the "meaning of the words," combines with the "power with which these words are spoken," and the "existential reception of the content" and the "correlation of these" into a "constellation in which the words become the Word" (Paul Tillich). The word becomes powerful in an "I/thou encounter" (Barth). The word becomes powerful "when we get out of God's way," or when placed into the hands of a church that has accepted the "mission paradigm" or "thinks like a missionary," or that has become a "great commission church" (Hunter and the Church Growth Movement). To Luther, and we might add, to the Holy Spirit, the word is powerful because in it Jesus speaks and forgives. "At whatever hour, then, God's word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day and work are sanctified thereby, . . . because of the Word which makes saints of us all" (LC I, 91).

A Third Seminary in the LCMS?

If you were going to start up an airline, you'd need to hire pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that all pilots first be trained by an approved training program, and that would mean hiring people to train those pilots. The question is, who would you hire to train the pilots? I know - hire a bunch of business men.

That sounds stupid doesn't it? Yet that's part of the mindset at PLI, the Pastoral Leadership Institute, the third seminary of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

PLI was begun in 1999 by LCMS Pastor Dr. Norbert Oesch, with input from many LCMS notables, including then Texas District President and now LCMS Synodical President Gerald Kieschnick.

The PLI leadership training program for pastors is a four year commitment, with annual attendance at two collegial events plus a conference at various host LCMS mentoring churches. Each year a different major topic is examined, for a total time commitment of 69 days spread over the four years. Specific mentoring churches are selected to host the events because they exhibit one or more "signature ministries" and conduct ministry "excellently," and participants are encouraged to observe and interact with the staff of these mentoring churches. Each participant is assigned mentors, who are experienced "pastor-leaders." The participants stick with their collegial group of six or seven fellow attendees throughout the four year program. Pastors build their "mission consciousness" by exposure to a congregation involved in multi-ethnic urban ministry, and through a two week international mission "vision" event. The annual fee for the program is $950 for the pastor and $3,250 charged to their congregation.

PLI had somewhat of a rough start. While it is a private concern not officially sanctioned by the LCMS, more than $300,000 was given to it by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. Some synod members were upset by that contribution and other incidents that gave the appearance that the LCMS was allied with PLI more closely than it should have been. There was also controversy surrounding the original "call" of Dr. Oesch to his position of Executive Director of PLI by the Pacific Southwest District, the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) eventually ruling that the District had no authority to issue such a call. Since those days, the LCMS has studiously avoided the appearance of an official sanction of PLI, at least at the top of the LCMS corporate structure. You now have to dig through LCMS Board of Directors meeting minutes and obscure Reporter articles to find mention of PLI from the top. Yet those ties still exist.

PLI states in its information packet (to access the proper link, click and then download the Pastor Information Packet):
What is the relationship of PLI to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod?
PLI is a 4-year continuing education learning experience with a special focus on leadership training and missional formation for pastors and their wives. Though PLI is neither an organization designated by the LCMS as a Recognized Service Organization (RSO) nor an auxiliary organization (like Lutheran Hour Ministries), PLI originated within the LCMS and serves the LCMS.
Assigned to the PLI Board of Directors is a member of the Council of Presidents. Both LCMS seminaries give academic credit toward a Doctor of Ministry degree for work completed by pastors in PLI. Concordia University Chicago gives academic credit toward a Masters Degree for work completed by pastors' wives in PLI.
In addition, members of both LCMS seminary faculties attend conference events to participate in theological dialog with mentor pastors. Faculty members also serve as conference presenters.
All mentors and their host site congregations as well as conference churches are members in good standing within the LCMS.
PLI further blurs the line of distinction between themselves and the Synod by saying it is "...a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod ministry."

Others seem to miss the distinction between the two as well.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Tale of Two Reports

This post is a tale of two reports issued by different bodies within the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS). These two reports, while investigating the same topic, the Church Growth Movement, leave the reader with two different impressions of the Church Growth Movement and its influence on the LCMS.

At the 1995 LCMS Synodical Convention, a resolution was passed to address the Church Growth Movement. In response to that resolution, the Church Growth Study Committee in 2001 released their report, “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission.” Their report is an excellent review of the theological and cultural considerations associated with the Church Growth Movement (CGM).

In 2002, President Gerald Kieschnick asked the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) to review “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission.” Their report, titled “CTCR Review of ‘For the Sake of Christ’s Commission’” was released in 2003.

Their report refers to the original Convention resolution, quoting in part:
--That The Lutheran Witness, Reporter and other publications of the Synod report on the errors in some Church Growth materials and practices and also in fairness show how some materials and practices may be used in service of the Gospel and the advancement of the Kingdom;
They go on to say
For reasons not explicitly stated in the report (e.g., perhaps a prioritizing of time and concerns, committee convictions about the nature and proper focus of its assignment, etc.), little attention is given in FSCC [“For the Sake of Christ’s Commission”] to the Synod’s request to “in fairness show how some [Church Growth] materials and practices may be used in the service of the Gospel and the advancement of the Kingdom,” toward the end that “congregations, Districts and entities of the Synod which are using Church Growth materials and practices” may “use them with proper discernment.”
The CTCR then proceeds to “remedy” this perceived lack of attention to the positive side of the Church Growth Movement in “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission.” They do so with great fervor.

While the CTCR report often praises “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission,” it rarely does so without adding qualifying language. They add conditional language so often that it would seem their purpose may have been to undermine FSCC rather than praise it. An example:
Once again, FSCC contains numerous salutary cautions and warnings in this regard.

At the same time—precisely because of the all-sufficient power of God’s means of grace—the church should be emboldened and encouraged to use all appropriate resources that God places at its disposal...
To illustrate this undermining effect, here is a list of the majority of these qualifying words, listed in order as they’re used in the CTCR report: “But,” “At the same time,” “also need to,” “But,” “At the same time,” “But,” “At the same time,” “it is also important to recognize,” “At the same time,” “At the same time,” “but it is important to emphasize,” “It seems reasonable and theologically defensible to hold that,” “At the same time,” “one might have expected more discussion,” “but more might have been said about,” “At the same time,” “we also need to guard against,” “may also find it helpful to.”

Friday, May 23, 2008

Let's Hear it for the Small Congregation!, by Rev. Matt Harrison

Photo of small church
Pastor Matt Harrison is the Executive Director for LCMS World Relief and Human Care. In this article, also available on his LCMS page, he offers encouragement for the small parish. Reproduced with permission.

Amid all the hype in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod over the last number of years about “growth,” some important facts about small congregations have been overlooked.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised that—if such a thing were measurable—all the well-meant talk about getting congregations to grow has in many cases impeded the very numerical growth we all want.

What do I mean? I'm afraid that much of the material that we “Synod types” have put out in the church in this regard, while well-intentioned and often very good advice, has disregarded the great blessings which Jesus brings people in the small congregation. When our talk is all about “grow, grow, growth, mega, meta, magnificent,” we run the very strong risk of giving—inadvertently—the small parish the message: You're bad, you're sick; you're backward, your abnormal. Any pastor worth his salt, with a decade or two of experience under his belt, will tell you that one significant factor in whether or not a church grows is how its members view their parish. That was certainly my experience in the parish.

I'd like to put before you a few simple thoughts in order to affirm and build up our small churches. Of the some 6,150 LCMS churches around the nation: 73 percent (4,510, more than three-fourths!) have fewer than 500 members on their roles; 38 percent have fewer than 200 members; 35 percent have between 200 and 500 members. Of those parishes of 200 or fewer members, average attendance is 53. For those between 200 and 500 members, average Sunday attendance is 128. Yet nearly one-third of these small parishes operate schools! That, frankly, is amazing!

Here's a couple more interesting stats. We know that as a percentage of the congregational budget, small congregations give considerably more to their district and to the Synod. And perhaps as significant as anything, smaller congregations have in many cases significantly better member attendance (48 percent attendance for the 2,363 churches under 200 members).

Over the course of my pastoral service, I served two parishes. (One was well above 500 members; the other somewhat below that number.) I can tell you from experience, the quality of pastoral care in smaller congregations is quite often phenomenal. The LCMS has some of the best-trained clergy in the nation. The vast majority of our pastors and teachers serve parishes with small numbers with “full-scale” commitment. This blessing has marked the existence of our Synod from her earliest days and will continue to mark our existence well into the future. Despite radically changing demographics, many rural parishes live out their lives in Christ with “gusto.”

Are there challenges and areas in which we fall short? Of course. But this little article is about the good things.

More important than anything else is that in these small parishes, Christ Himself, through His blessed Word and Sacrament, dwells to give sinners life and salvation. That is a point C.F.W. Walther loved to drive home when he sensed any devaluation of smaller parishes by anyone in the Synod. Very important to me as executive director for LCMS World Relief and Human Care is that so many small parishes so well approximate the ideal Luther held up for the church, as we all are members of the same body, caring for one another. He spoke about the Lord's Supper:

“Christ said, I am the head, I will first give Myself for you, will make your suffering and misfortune Mine own and bear it for you, that you in your turn may do the same for Me and for one another, have all things in common in Me and with me, and let this sacrament be unto you a sure token of that all, that you may not forget me.”

Christ cares for us, gives Himself for us. We in turn give ourselves for the neighbor. This happens nowhere as well, as naturally, and as constantly as in the small parish. Where mistakes are made, we flee to the forgiving waters of baptism, confess our sins, and resolve in faith to begin anew in love, both “laying down our burdens in the midst of the congregation” (Luther) and also finding the burdens of others there to take up. God knows that as we often know well the sins of our neighbors (and they know ours!) in smaller congregations, the need for forgiveness and grace as we work together is all the greater!

We heartily support, thank God for, and affirm our many larger congregations that have been blessed by circumstances, God-given wisdom, demographics and grace to work hard—all which have allowed them to grow to such an extent. But let us always give thanks for the small congregations, which constantly remind us all that the church on earth is truly, and always, a “little flock.”

Come to think of it, the Synod would do best if we had many, many more small congregations!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Difference Between Doctrine & Life

Quoting Luther:
The great difference between doctrine and life is obvious, even as the difference between heaven and earth. Life may be unclean, sinful, and inconsistent; but doctrine must be pure, holy, sound, unchanging... not a tittle or letter may be omitted, however much life may fail to meet the requirements of doctrine. This is so because doctrine is God’s Word, and God’s truth alone, whereas life is partly our own doing.... God will have patience with man’s moral failings and imperfections an forgive them. But He cannot, will not, and shall not tolerate a man’s altering or abolishing doctrine itself. For doctrine involves His exalted, divine Majesty itself (WA, 30 III, 343 f.)
Quoted from Getting Into the Theology of Concord, Robert D. Preus (St. Louis: CPH, 1977) 14.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

President Kieschnick's Letter to LCMS Pastors

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod President Gerald Kieschnick sent out a letter to LCMS pastors today, a portion of which I'll post below. As a little "food for thought," I'll first offer to you the definition of Irenics, as found in the Christian Cyclopedia, for your own edification, as well as for that of the good Doctor:
Theology which tries to arrive at Christian peace. Irenics presupposes polemics, which in its true character should have no other aim than irenics. The “bond of peace,” Eph 4:3, embraces all Christians, and “speaking the truth in love,” Eph 4:15, deserves to be emphasized at all times. But he who truly seeks ecclesiastical peace well-pleasing to God will find himself compelled to engage in controversy. True irenics does not exclude polemics, but is another way of gaining the same end. The danger of polemics lies in the direction of separatism and magnification of unessential differences; irenic efforts are prone to degenerate into syncretism and unionism; love of revealed truth guards against both dangers.

Here is a portion of Rev. Dr. Kieschnick's letter:

A Pastoral Letter to
Pastors of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
From President Jerry Kieschnick
May 21, 2008

Dear Brothers in Christ,

A word from St. Paul: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-3).

The unity we have as Christians is a precious gift of God. If it then behooves us as Christians to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," how much greater is our responsibility in this regard as ordained ministers of the Gospel?

While much could be written about these few verses in Ephesians, I find a comment in Kretzmann's Popular Commentary worth sharing: "By striving after the virtues named by the apostle: love, peace, meekness, humility, long-suffering, patience, the Christians maintain the unity of the Spirit given to them in the Word. As soon as these virtues are disregarded, the result is dissension and disagreement, division and sectarianism." It's my prayer that all of us-and I begin with myself-will exhibit these virtues and maintain the gift of unity given us by God's Spirit.

+ + +

Theological unity and division

Eph. 4:1-3 also was on my mind as I wrote a paper that I presented last month to the Council of Presidents. The title is "Theological Unity and Division in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod." In it, I addressed such questions as how united or divided we are as a synod, on what do we agree, and the nature of any disagreements.

The number of doctrinal points on which we agree may surpass that of most other Christian church bodies. In my document I cited 32 such points of agreement. While I won't list them all here, they include the following, by way of example:

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Shoemaker Poet

Hans Sachs was a shoemaker in Nuremberg and a contemporary of Martin Luther. He was also a poet, playwright, and singer, crafting over 6,000 pieces. In 1523 he wrote a poem in honor of Martin Luther, which is a beautiful summary of Luther's theology called "The Nightingale of Wittenberg." My hat's off to Hans Sachs, the shoemaker poet:

Luther teaches that we all
Are involved in Adam's fall.
If man beholds himself within,
He feels the bite and curse of sin.
When dread, despair, and terror seize,
Contrite he falls upon his knees.
Then breaks for him the light of day.
Then the Gospel may have sway.
Then sees he Christ, of God the Son,
Who for us all things has done.
The Law fulfilled, the debt is paid,
Death overcome, the curse allayed.
Hell destroyed, the devil bound,
Grace for us with God has found.
Christ, the lamb, removes all sin.
By faith alone in Christ we win.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Holy Trinity Sunday 2008

What a glorious Divine Service today. Holy Trinity Sunday, the processional, Confirmation, the Lord’s Supper, plus my son and I teamed together, he as Crucifer/Acolyte, and me as Elder.

I had the privilege of offering Christ’s blood to repentant sinners, an “experience” like no other. I’m blessed as an Elder to share the promise of salvation in visible form.

There is a sublime joy in sharing the Eucharist with those you know, especially through the common cup. I was able to commune some of my close friends that I hadn’t seen in a long while today. I held to their lips Christ’s blood, saying their name as we together celebrated Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil, and as we shared the hope that is in us.

All glory to the Father,
All glory to the Son,
All glory to the Spirit,
Forever Three in One;
For as in the beginning,
Is now, shall ever be,
God’s triune name resounding,
Through all eternity.

Proper Snuffing

After church my son and I were discussing his crucifix-carrying performance today in the processional. I offered that he might have walked a bit too fast. He said he wondered about that. Then he said this:

“You know what I can do well dad? I’m good at the snuffing.”

I suggested he might get the snuffer of the year award.

His reply: “If they had acolyte Olympics, I would destroy at the snuffing.”

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
Psalms 127:3-5

Saturday, May 17, 2008

You Should Be Aware

Lora has a great blog called The Rebellious Pastor's Wife. It's got a nice layout with a cool cat, and more importantly, she's got something to say. She had a post a while back that I thought hit really close to home. I know she thinks it's important, because she's got a permanent link to it at the top of her page using the words "If You Are LC-MS, Please Read This." Here's her post, used with permission, titled

You Should Be Aware

Those of you in the LCMS who read this should be aware:

1. That if you or your congregation are donating to Missions or Board of Human Care, they are not getting your money. Your money is being held in a general fund investment account so that the the Synod, NOT the BOHC or missions, gets the proceeds from the interest. In fact, most of the funds going to Human Care have been frozen, very possibly for political reasons, since Rev. Matt Harrison has indicated he would be willing to run for president of the LCMS next convention. I know that even if you wouldn't specifically call yourself liturgical or might be very concerned about this.

2. That the LCMS is at least 20 million dollars in debt. Not only that, they are taking that debt and dividing it among its ministries, forcing them to support the weight of this debt. So ministries such as KFUO, for instance, the oldest Christian radio station in the nation, has $300,000 added to its budget that they have to meet, rather than simply meeting the costs of running the radio station. They also are continuing to pursue financing that takes us further in debt.

Because of these budgetary restraints (at least reportedly), one casualty has been the radio show "Issues, Etc.," a very popular show for the thinking Christian, that has been a very successful outreach and support to Christians worldwide (because it is one of the few that has managed to successfully utilize podcasts and modern technology that is more convenient and used by those who know least so my eleven year old tells me ;) ) . This decision to cancel our most successful ministry through KFUO was done without knowledge of the board that immediately supervises KFUO, the Board of Communications, and it seems the only other person aware of this decision to do so was President Kieschnick himself. (as of late, almost 7500 signatures by Lutherans and those outside our denomination have been added to a petition to restore Issues, Etc., and five synodical districts have issued resolutions encouraging Synod to restore the program and to apologize to Pastor Wilken and producer Jeff Schwarz for the way this situation was handled).

This also happened during Holy Week, immediately after an interview with Rev. Harrison (see #1) was aired twice in the previous week (common practice with Issues Etc.) regarding the book that he published containing issues from some of our Synod's leading minds concerning women's ordination.

3. Also, when you donate to LCMS ministries such as KFUO, the Lutheran Foundation takes a rather large cut of the money that comes in. I rather like the Lutheran Foundation. They do good things and help support congregations. But I believe that those who donate should be aware of that 30 % of your donation goes to them.

4. You should also know that our missionaries have been called home in DROVES. We basically no longer have a mission field in Latin America, an area that once was thriving. Missionaries who have devoted their entire lives to reaching out to the lost in our world, who have abandoned all comfort for the sake of Christ are simply being given a letter saying that funding is stopped and thank you very much for your service. We haven't heard from them much because they are hoping for the opportunity to be allowed to serve again, to get called to congregations in the United States, and to have means to care for their families.

5. The amounts for Synod debt currently are roughly comparable to the cost of the Ablaze (TM) program that our president has promoted.

6. Funds acquired by Ablaze to support churches who are reaching out have been used to support churches that are teaching false theology and refusing to use the name "Lutheran" in their names, a violation of a synod resolution regarding the use of mission funds.

7. The president of our synod has also suggested that the president should be the one to pick heads of synodical boards, rather than the voters at the conventions, because it would be more efficient to have board heads who are in line with his goals. This president also said publicly at the Indiana District Convention two years ago, that those who did not share the goals of synod (the current administration) were welcome to leave.

8. At our last convention, the administration proposed a convention to draw up a new constitution. It will take place immediately before the next synodical convention in 2010. The group responsible for composing and leading the process to change the constitution is the administration that made the previous suggestion.

9. Those that are expressing doubt and concern about any of these issues, rather than being met with invitations to dialogue, to open the financial records of the synod, or to address any of these concerns, have instead been met with generic exhortations to follow the 4th Commandment (respecting and trusting authority) and the 8th Commandment (using it as an encouragement to 'think the best' of the people who are the decision makers).

Please prayerfully consider these things. I am not the best source for information that is going on in the synod (and I don't necessarily understand accounting), and the Synodical website and publications certainly are not.

But Lutherans have taken to the internet to disperse information, and there are many reliable sources here as well. I point your attention to Save the LCMS, Augsburg 1530, and a great social connecting site specifically for Lutherans where discussions about these things and all other things Lutheran, Wittenberg Trail. There are others, but I leave it to you to mine the depths of the rich Lutheran Blogosphere.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Top “10" List of Things You’ll Never Hear Scott Diekmann Say

10. “I sold my copy of Testing the Claims of Church Growth on eBay.”

9. “That Rob Bell is one heck of a theologian.”

8. "Deeds, not creeds."

7. “I got Leonard Sweet to autograph my copy of SoulTsunami!

6. “In truth, last summer the LCMS had its most positive and unified convention in years.”

5. “Jerry and I have a tee-time tomorrow at 9.”

4. "I never question the COP."

3. “IE was canceled for business and programmatic reasons, and that’s final.”

2. “I’m sick of all this incessant internal purification.”

And the number one thing you’ll never hear Scott Diekmann say:

1. “Oh rats, I forgot to wear my Ablaze!® bracelet.”

"Issues, Etc." Dist. Resolutions; The Big Map v. 3.0

District map

There are now ten Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Districts (or parts thereof) that have passed resolutions related to the cancellation of Issues, Etc. (out of a total of 35 Districts), Southern Region Pastors' Conference of the Rocky Mountain District being the latest addition. Since it’s an election year, I thought it only appropriate that we should have a nice red and blue map to keep a running tally of the results. The red districts are those that have passed resolutions. The blue districts are those that are “blue” because they haven’t yet passed a resolution.

The Board of Elders in my church passed a resolution on Issues, Etc., which we passed on to the voters. If your church is similar, feel free to post a comment with your church's resolution.

Here is the current list, with the latest addition(s) at the top of the list, hyperlinked to the resolutions for each district:

Rocky Mountain District - Southern Region Pastors' Conference

Minnesota State Pastoral Conference
(Minnesota North District and Minnesota South District)

Central Illinois District Board of Directors

Central Illinois District Pastors' Conference

Iowa District East Board of Directors

Minnesota South District Board of Directors

North Dakota District Pastors' Conference

South Dakota District Pastors' Conference

South Wisconsin District Pastoral Conference

Southern Illinois District Pastoral Conference

Wyoming District Pastors' Conference

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Issues, Etc." Dist. Resolutions; The Big Map v. 2.0

District map

There are now nine Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Districts that have passed resolutions related to the cancellation of Issues, Etc. (out of a total of 35 Districts), the Minnesota State Pastoral Conference (Minnesota North District and Minnesota South District) being the latest addition. Since it’s an election year, I thought it only appropriate that we should have a nice red and blue map to keep a running tally of the results. The red districts are those that have passed resolutions. The blue districts are those that are “blue” because they haven’t yet passed a resolution.

Here is the current list, hyperlinked to the resolutions for each district:

Minnesota State Pastoral Conference
(Minnesota North District and Minnesota South District)

Central Illinois District Board of Directors

Central Illinois District Pastors' Conference

Learning From the Baptists

At a time when our Synodical President is praising the megachurch model and extolling it as the savior of anemic Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod membership, the Baptists are pointing to the same model as the reason for their own decline.

Save the LCMS reports that an article in The Christian Post states that “Weak preaching and cultural adaptability are just two of many reasons Southern Baptists give to explain the decline of membership and baptisms.”

Paige Patterson, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says “The more attuned to culture Southern Baptists have become and the more we have incorporated the world into our worship, the more our baptisms have dropped!”

Note that even the Baptists measure their growth (or lack of it) in terms of the number of Baptisms, an statistic that is sadly left out in the LCMS’s biggest evangelistic effort, Ablaze!®

Perhaps we could use the Confessional model for Church growth, through the preaching and teaching of the Word, and rightly administering the Sacraments. Perhaps God’s ways really are better than man’s ways.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Warning: This Is Not Your Grandfather's Church

This quote comes from Pastor Asburry's blog, RAsburry's Res. A member of the Anglican Church made a comment that Pastor Asburry promoted to a post. What this gentleman says may not be totally representative of the LCMS, but it's close. His intent was to warn those in the LCMS. Here's his last statement, which certainly resonated with me:

I'm not a Lutheran but I am part of a similar enough tradition (traditional Anglican - another vanishing breed) to see what's going on there. Any church with roots in the historic liturgy that has as it's new catchphrase "This is not your grandfather's church" is at most one generation away from apostasy. Trust me- I've been there, done that.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dr. Veith Exposes "Issues, Etc." Issues in "WORLD Magazine"

Expect another denial from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's (LCMS) President Kieschnick soon. Dr. Gene Edward Veith, LCMS member, Provost at Patrick Henry College, Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, and culture editor for WORLD Magazine, has written an article on Issues, Etc. in the May 17th edition of WORLD. The article, titled "'Issues' No Longer: Cancellation of LCMS radio show raises ruckus," questions the reasons why Issues, Etc. was canceled.

Here are the highlights:
So why did that administration suddenly eliminate what may be its best known, most respected, and most effective vehicle for evangelizing the lost, interacting with other Christians, and bringing Lutheranism into the public square?

...According to an official statement from the LCMS, the show was canceled because it was too expensive to operate and did not reach a big enough audience.

Fans of the show suspected another reason: The mode of outreach the current LCMS administration favors comes from the church growth movement, which Issues, Etc. consistently criticized.

Under church growth methodology, traditional worship styles, theological rigor, and denominational distinctives can be "obstacles" to church growth. Being "negative," as in theological polemics of the sort that Issues, Etc. was known for, "turns people off."

Though Issues, Etc. was careful to avoid intra-LCMS controversies, recent programs included hard-hitting critiques of Islam, women's ordination, and superstar preacher Joel Osteen. Such treatments could only be embarrassing for officials wanting to project a kinder, gentler Lutheranism.

But when news of the cancellation came out, the blogosphere erupted. An online petition to bring back the show collected over 7,000 signatures. Congregations and entire denominational districts registered their disapproval.

...Now the issue is whether the denomination will reject its theological identity to join generic megachurch Protestantism.

You just can’t buy publicity like this.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost 2008

I wonder what the Apostles thought when Jesus promised them another counselor, or helper. How were they expecting the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself, and how would He be known? They must have discussed Jesus’ marvelous words among themselves. How could you not wonder and speculate what would happen, and when?

Of course, we, and they, now know the history of the day of Pentecost and the manifestation of the Spirit. Yet I sometimes think we forget how it is that the Spirit comes to us. Do we, or other people, sometimes look for the Spirit where He cannot be found? Luther said “To sit in a corner, to gape heavenward, and wait to see Him come is sheer folly. The Word is the only bridge and path by which the Holy Spirit comes to us.” How often do we forget where the Holy Spirit can be found, working through the Word, and look for Him elsewhere, perhaps in our own feeble works and plans.

Dear Heavenly Father, send us your Holy Spirit to work in our hearts, that we would repent and grow in a true knowledge of you and love for our neighbor. Remind us where it is that the Holy Spirit can be found, in the Word of the Absolution, in the Word of the Liturgy, in the Word of Baptism, in the Word of the sermon, and in the Word of the Lord’s Supper. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Luther quote from What Luther Says (St. Louis: CPH, 1959) 663.

Friday, May 9, 2008

"The Three Walls Preventing Reform of the LCMS," by Pastor Craig S. Stanford

In this paper by Pastor Standford, Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois, parallels are drawn between Luther's description of the defensive perimeter of the Roman Catholic Church of his day and the defensive perimeter of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod of our day. Those defensive walls, erected not by God but by the church, prevent much-needed reform. If you have questions on how the LCMS is regulated, this paper will help fill in the blanks. This article is reproduced in its entirety with permission.

Here's a tidbit of what's to come:
Like the Romanist Church in Luthers day, the LCMS has created a political system that makes it impossible to establish the truth and do justice within the ecclesiastical system. It is a system designed to protect those in power in the "corporate synod" infrastructure (be they liberal or conservative!) and intimidate anyone one who would see fit to seek protection elsewhere. This thwarting of justice is accomplished through a multitude of contradictory rules, double standards, shifting CCM rulings, hypocritical and pietistic officials and reconcilers, and bad doctrine. The politicization of selecting and electioneering to select certain people (be they liberals or conservatives) to fill the CCM, CTCR, and Dispute Resolution Panels are prominent examples.

It is often said that Dr. Luther did not "leave" the Roman Church, but instead sought to reform it from within. This often cited cliche is not as accurate as the modern conservative Lutheran churchman would like to think. While it is true that the Lutheran Reformers made requests for an ecumenical council in the hope they would be given a fair hearing, it appears that Dr. Luther came quickly to the conclusion that a reform from "within" was highly unlikely. And indeed Luther was excommunicated. And yet, Luther thought the energies of the Reformers needed to be spent elsewhere. If reform was going to come it would not come from the "top down" or from "within the system," but would have to occur in one parish, one family, and one territory at a time. Hence his multifaceted work on the Bible, the Catechisms, liturgy, hymns, sacramental practice, societal concerns, education, and the like. It also seems clear that Luther believed this reform would need to be carried out by ordinary people in the proper execution of their vocations.

In the first part of his letter to The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate of 1520, Luther evaluated the condition of the Romanist system and explained why the Romanist Church would never be reformed:
The Romanists have very cleverly built three walls around themselves. Hitherto they have protected themselves by these walls in such a way that no one has been able to reform them. As a result the whole of Christendom has fallen abominably.

In the first place, when pressed by the temporal power they have made decrees and declared that the temporal power had no jurisdiction over them, but that on the contrary the spiritual power is above the temporal. In the second place, when the attempt is made to reprove them with Scriptures, they raise the objection that only the pope may interpret the Scriptures. In the third place, if threatened with a council, their story is that no one may summon a council but the pope. (Luther's Works American Edition, Vol. 44, p. 126)
In the introduction to this letter, the editors of Luther's Works (American Edition) Volume 44 summarized Luther's basic argument:
In the three sections of this treatise Luther laid the ax to the whole complex of ideas upon which the social, political, legal, and religious thought of the Western world had been developing for nearly a thousand years. The first section exposes and refutes theologically the three walls behind which the papacy was entrenched. By demolishing the first wall, the concept of spiritual and secular classes, Luther removed [sic! rather "corrected"] the medieval distinction between clergy and laity and conferred upon the state, the rulers of which (as Luther saw it) were Christians and therefore priests, the right and duty to curb evil no matter where it appeared. In rapid succession he demolishes the remaining two walls: the papal claim that only the pope can interpret Scripture, and that because only the pope could summon a council the decisions of a council were invalid without papal sanction. Luther declares that there is no biblical ground for the papal claim of the sole right to interpret Scripture [!] and he asserts the necessity for Rome to listen to those who can. The third wall collapses under the barrage of Luthers attacks drawn from Scripture, church history, and the assertion that "when necessity demands it, and the pope is an offense to Christendom, the first man who is able should, as a true member of the whole body, do what he can to bring about a truly free council." (LW-AE Vol. 44, pp.120-121).
For those acquainted with the present situation in the LCMS, the parallels should be obvious. But for the sake of those who are just now realizing how deeply entrenched the LCMS has become and how steadfast the synod is in refusal to be reformed to a truly confessional Lutheran position, the author will continue and describe our own "Three Walls."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"Issues, Etc." District Resolutions; The Big Map

There are now eight Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Districts that have passed resolutions related to the cancellation of Issues, Etc. (out of a total of 35 Districts). Since it’s an election year, I thought it only appropriate that we should have a nice red and blue map to keep a running tally of the results. The red districts are those that have passed resolutions. The blue districts are those that are “blue” because they haven’t yet passed a resolution.

Here is the current list, hyperlinked to the resolutions for each district:

Central Illinois District Board of Directors

Central Illinois District Pastors' Conference

Iowa District East Board of Directors

Minnesota South District Board of Directors

North Dakota District Pastors' Conference

South Dakota District Pastors' Conference

South Wisconsin District Pastoral Conference

Southern Illinois District Pastoral Conference

Wyoming District Pastors' Conference

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Hidden Behind a Pious Lie"

"There is actually more unity of the church present where Christians of differing confession honorably determine that they do not have the same understanding of the Gospel, than where the painful fact of confessional splintering is hidden behind a pious lie."

Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse, from his booklet Union and Confession.

Thanks to one of my Confessional former pastors for pointing this quote out.

Monday, May 5, 2008

O How the Mighty Have Fallen

Mollie Hemingway, fellow Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod member and the journalist who brought us the now-famous Wall Street Journal article on Issues, Etc., was interviewed on The Way of the Master Radio recently. Thanks to the ubiquitous Pastor Weedon for pointing this out. He says the interview is about two-thirds of the way through the show. That would be (rounded up) to 67%. I’m saying it’s waaaaay past where Pastor Weedon would lead you, at least 68% of the way down the slider. You heard it here first!

As much as I enjoy listening to Mollie, it was the interviewer, Todd Friel whose comments were most significant. I don’t necessarily take religious advice from Reformed-type Christians (no offense), but he’s got some advice for those in the LCMS that’s right on track.

He has this to say about Issues, Etc.:

Issues, Etc., it was a good radio program. It was just a mature, adult, Christian, here’s the theology, here’s the thinking, let’s examine it. Let’s not pander to people and think that they’re stupid. They used big words and tackled big concepts and taught deep theology. It got yanked off of the air.
As he introduces Mollie, he says “...I don’t want to see another Lutheran Synod bite the dust, like the ELCA so tragically has.”

He and Mollie then discuss the cancellation of Issues, the current fad-driven ideas in the LCMS, Ablaze!®, and the general state of the Synod. At the close of the interview, he has this to say:

You Lutherans in the Missouri Synod, get on this. I mean it. Don’t dilly dally. We do not need you to get all fluffy on us. The seeker-sensitive model has been a disaster from top to bottom. A complete train wreck. There’s nothing good, nothing from it. So get involved with this. And you’ve got to get your leadership involved. You gotta get ‘em recognizing that it is not the right path... People are dying for the conservative. Ya got it - don’t go the wrong direction.
This is embarrassing. We’ve now got a non-Lutheran (again, no offense) at the end of his program quoting the words from A Mighty Fortress Is Our God while it’s playing in the background, encouraging the conservative remnant in the LCMS, while our leaders are pouring money and heaping praise on churches whose appearance is based on gimmick, bait and switch, or just bait.

O how the mighty have fallen.

Expelled: ID, TW, & JS

We just returned from the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, starring Ben Stein, which we attended with the church youth group. The basic thesis of the movie is that our liberty as Americans is being suppressed by those who would seek to silence members of the scientific community who advocate Intelligent Design (ID) as a hypothesis for the beginning of life.

The movie was worth seeing, although kids younger than the teenage years won’t get a lot out of it.

We had a rousing conversation in the car on the way home. Our son, referring to the people in the movie who opposed Intelligent Design, said “Those people are too smart for themselves.” Our daughter pointed out that they are essentially just rejecting God. They’ve both got it nailed, if you compare their thoughts to Romans 1:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Romans 1:18-25
At one point, Richard Dawkins, one of the biggest mouthpieces for the theory of evolution, stated that aliens might have come here and designed life on our planet. Let me get this straight Richard, aliens could have designed life on earth, but God is an impossibility?

One thing that struck me more than any other came towards the end of the movie. Representatives of the universities that fired professors who advocated Intelligent Design were being interviewed. The majority of those interviewed denied any link between these individual’s views on ID and their firings. The university official’s answers were couched in corporate bureaucratese - a case where anybody could see that they were denying the obvious. It reminded me a lot of some of the answers we’ve been hearing in relation to the firing of Pastor Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz, the Host and the Producer of the canceled radio program Issues, Etc.

There are two points I’d like to make here. The first is that while I will put the best construction on things and go along with the reason TW and JS were fired (at least just this once), because of monetary concerns, I’d still argue that a Synod that valued Truth and doctrine above all else would never have discontinued Issues, Etc.

The second point is this: The firing of Pastor Wilken and Jeff Schwarz was merciless. The phrasing used in the explanations for their firings sounded just like that used in the movie for the firings of the ID advocates. I would expect much more from our Synodical officials. Rev. Dr. Kieschnick’s voice sounded like that of a corporate executive, not like that of the good Shepherd. His response lacked the love of Jesus Christ, and instead was the sound of a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.

It’s more than a little ironic that a movie about persecution, the muzzling of employees, and the loss of personal freedom would also reflect the dealings of a denomination of Jesus Christ’s Church. And I’m not just referring to Issues issues (see my post “Confessional Lutherans Need Not Apply” for another example).

There’s a lot more I’d like to say, but, I guess I’m a bit like Aunt Em in The Wizard of Oz: “And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it!”

I hope you’ll all go see the movie, and then write a letter to the movie reviewer in your local newspaper who gave it a bad review and who said it’s nothing more than a guise for creationism.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Recommended Reading: “The LCMS–Its Past and Future," by Pastor Wallace Schulz

Pastor Wallace Schulz’ article “The LCMS–Its Past and Future” is one of the best articles I’ve seen on the current state of the LCMS, how we got where we are, and what we should do about it. I highly recommend it. I’ll quote a few areas of his essay to give you a sense of what he’s saying.

The thing I like most about Pastor Schulz’ suggestions and conclusions is that he puts God in the driver’s seat, not us - a virtue that we sinners often seem to lack. He states “THE KEY TO RESOLVING ANY CRISIS IN CHRIST’S CHURCH ALWAYS HAS BEEN, AND ALWAYS WILL BE, A RETURN TO GOD’S WORD.

This is a comprehensive article. He begins with a history of past major crises in the LCMS: the Altenburg crisis, the predestination controversy, the statement of the “44,” and Seminex. He analyzes the response of each of our Synod’s President’s to each of the crises (Walther in the first two, President Behnken in the second, and J.A.O. Preus II in the case of Seminex.)

In each of the first two controversies, “Walther turned the church back to the Lord’s healing Word.” “Walther wrote compelling Scripture-based essays for the pastors,” and he wrote essays for the lay people which “showed how God’s Word resolved the issues. The way God used C.F.W. Walther to resolve the Predestination crisis cannot be emphasized enough,
especially for our church’s current crisis
.” [emphasis in original in all cases]

In the third crisis, a debate over ecumenical relationships, President Behnken “
did not clearly explain the issues facing the LCMS
,” and never “directly applied” God’s Word, resulting in a failure to clearly resolve the issue.

In the case of Seminex, Pastor Wallace concludes that while the “plumb line” of Scripture was used in some ways, political maneuvering became the hammer used to eliminate the dissidents in the seminary, which ultimately could be considered a failure. “...The
use of the cliche’“the end justifies the means’ is precisely what bedevils and divides the LCMS. Intended or unintended, this was a precedent begun in the handling of Seminex that is being used widely and freely. Does anyone believe this produces peace?”

...In very recent years, the LCMS president has used, in an unprecedented way, authority given to his office to appoint members to the CTCR [Commission On Theology and Church Relations], the CCM [Commission On Constitutional Matters], and other committees, thereby producing tools for taking care of any dissent, or any one who does not believe according to the wishes of those politically in power. The question here is whether a Synodical president is operating by the letter or spirit of the handbook. Here also is another lesson for the conservative wing of the LCMS: the so-called conservative wing of the LCMS helped create the tools your previously-elected President designed to eliminate others–now your tool is being used on yourselves. What goes around comes around!

If Walther had faced the Seminex issue, surely he would have isolated the issues of Seminex on the basis of the Word of God and the Confessions. He then would have worked toward a resolution of the Seminex problem on that basis.

Anyone trying to argue for the necessity of a politically dominated church on the basis of the kingdom on the left is going to be appealing to a God, or a god, who is not listening! ‘They will call on Me, but I will not answer’ (Proverbs 1:28).
Pastor Schulz then moves on to the fifth major crisis, now. He discusses the major influences on the LCMS over the past forty years: religious television, interfaith marriage, Protestant evangelism methodologies, Protestant fundamentalist media, Protestant-Charismatic music, the inerrancy litmus test, and Ablaze!®.

Friday, May 2, 2008

President Mueller Speaks Out

In my recent post "Where Were the District Presidents?," I wondered how the District Presidents of those Districts who passed resolutions in support of Issues, Etc. could also have signed the April 22 statement on Issues, Etc. issued by the Council of Presidents, since the two conflicted. Pastor Herbert Mueller, President of the Southern Illinois District, has subsequently come out with a personal statement offering further details on his decision. Thanks to President Mueller for speaking out. Here is a portion of what he had to say:
Out of a desire to have something to which District Presidents could refer going back home, the Council of Presidents also adopted a statement with counsel to the members of the Synod. Both statements were quickly posted to the Synod’s web site. The COP’s statement was adopted in the closing minutes of the meeting on Tuesday, April 22, after the COP had rejected a formal resolution that would not have been helpful at all. The web site says the COP statement was adopted by voice vote with no dissenting voices. Personally, I did not raise an objection to the final version of the statement because I believed at the time it was better than the first resolution presented. To those who are disappointed in the COP Statement, I understand and I do share your sense of disappointment. I am sorry I failed to do better. At the very least, I failed to slow what became a hurried process to adopt something. As a result, the COP Statement itself does not fully represent, I believe, the level of frustration on the part of many members of the COP that Issues Etc was cancelled, or that the matter was handled in the manner it was. Having said that, I do not believe it would be helpful or wise for me to have any further public comment on the COP Statement.
The full text of President Mueller's statement can be viewed at Weedon's Blog.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

WWJOD (What Would Joel Osteen Do?)

photo of sub sandwichI finished up a run while on my layover in Dallas. It was dinner time, and I didn’t feel like turning getting something to eat into too much of an adventure, so I decided to grab a sub at Subway. Before I went in I checked the posted hours of operation. My watch said 6:32 p.m., but it was 8:32 Dallas time. The sign said they were open until 9:00. No problem!

As I went in, I noted that one of the employees that was headed for the back kind of rolled his eyes - then I saw why. You know the little tubs they keep all the ingredients in behind the glass at Subway? Well every one of those was pulled out and stacked up on the edge of the counter with lids in place. Every single one. (Except for the ones I shortly discovered they already hauled off to the refrigerator.) At that point I considered going somewhere else, but the other guy grudgingly came up and asked me what I wanted. I gave him my order as I dutifully waited for him to fumble around, trying to find the ingredients I wanted in those huge stacks of tubs.

Eventually he had my sub assembled, minus a couple of things because I didn’t want to wait all night. Time to pay. He then said something rather unexpected. He told me he’d have to do a “drop” in order to have me pay, so he let me have my 6" sub and medium Diet Coke for free. I wasn’t totally sure how all of this fit together in the grand scheme of things, but hey, who am I to argue? So I grabbed my sub, filled up the cup, and sat down to enjoy my free meal.

As I was munching away, oil and vinegar dripping on the table, I said what was probably a rather selfish prayer. I prayed that the Lord would send somebody else to come in and order. I didn’t want to be the only dunce in a rather large Subway eating at 8:40 p.m.

My other thought was a little more of a theological one. What would Joel Osteen do (WWJOD)? (This isn’t an original expression - I’m not sure who first phrased it.)

Pondering, I remembered a sermon of Pastor Osteen’s that I saw him preach on TV. He was talking about God’s favor. Now think about how he’d say it too. “God’s faaaa-ver.” That’s right! The part I really remember is him talking about getting on an airplane and having a seat in coach. He got settled in, and then out of the blue the Flight Attendant asked him if he’d like to sit in First Class. Of course, just like me, he said yes. He related that event to God’s “faaaa-ver.” The thought goes something like this: If we do things that God likes, if we walk in His ways, we get a reward. A sort of “tit for tat” relationship, in a good way. If we think positive thoughts, good things will happen. Basically, we control our own destiny, and God tags along because we’re so likeable.

I guess I just can’t quite see eye to eye with Pastor Osteen on this one though. I think it went more like this: The two guys in Subway just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. They were being poor employees by putting stuff away too early. I just happened to walk in at 8:32 and get a free meal because of their slothfulness. It wasn’t because of God’s faaaa-ver. As a matter of fact, I’d have to say just the opposite. I’d say what I do in life often warrants God’s dis-faaaa-ver. It’s only because of the work Jesus did for me on the cross that God sees me in a favorable light. Otherwise, I’m sunk. The good works I do were created in advance for me to do, and without Christ’s righteousness covering me, they’d be useless.

Pastor Osteen’s faaaa-ver sermon is nothing more than a Theology of Glory. He’s turning God into what he wants God to be, not how God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ through the prophets and the apostles. He wants God to be a glorious God who faaaa-vers us when we get a good report card. But God doesn’t promise us a wonderful life. Our life as Christians is tied up in Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s not a life that the world would picture, but often a life of humiliation and suffering. It’s a life of weakness and trust not in ourselves, but in Him who atoned for our sin on a cross. It’s the exact opposite of the god the world wants. It’s not a life that we Christians always want either. But it’s a life that, through our suffering, draws us closer to Christ. While we may kick and scream at God’s treatment of us, just like a parent disciplines their child, it is for our good. And that’s why it’s good to eat at Subway. You get a free meal and a little theological topping to go along with it.

Oh yeah. At 8:46 p.m. two other people walked in and ordered. I didn’t have to sit there and be the only person after all. God does answer prayer!